Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jan 2015
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2015 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: David Asper
Page: A15


BEING in Arizona on a university campus and immersed in U.S. culture
is fascinating generally, and especially so with regard to the debate
about legalization and regulation of recreational use marijuana. I am
currently teaching part time at Arizona State University as we develop
a North American law degree program.

What's really interesting in the Arizona and American news generally
is seeing both the language patterns that are being used in the
narrative as well as the legislative and political machinations around
the issue of marijuana use.

With Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia
having made recreational use legal, many other states are having to
address how they will react to increasing popular sentiment about the
futility of prohibition.

The word legalization seems to have an implication of broad
permissiveness that leaves many observers opposed to the idea. It
opens the door to lunatics such as journalist Nancy Grace arguing
legalization means marijuana would be as available as Twinkies are to
young children at the local convenience store.

Moreover, the word legalization appears to also imply approval or even
a subtle endorsement of the use of recreational marijuana.

This contorted framing and condemnation of the word legalization is
often done by people whose recreational vice, namely alcohol, which
was also once prohibited, is almost a badge of sophistication. They
are the ones who love their Napa Chardonnay but preach fire and
damnation about Hindu Kush and somehow miss the fact alcohol is far
more widely available and legal for potential misuse by children than
is marijuana.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I've invested

DAVID in a marijuana company and stand to gain personally from the
reduction or elimination of prohibition. Probably like many of you, I
have used (and inhaled)marijuana occasionally and have never
considered its illegality to be relevant to the rest of an otherwise
law-abiding life. In the United States, some legislators and
proponents have seen the need to change their approach from the word
legalization to regulation. It's a distinction that may be an
important consideration for how we frame the debate in Canada, because
no one is suggesting marijuana for recreational use should be sold in
an unregulated way.

It needs regulation for quality and strength, just like alcohol. It
needs regulation for who can sell it and where, just like alcohol. It
needs regulation as to who can buy it at what age, just like alcohol.
It needs a system of packaging and consumer information, including
appropriate warnings. It needs a regime of enforcement and penalties
for those who don't follow the regulations. And the list goes on.

Furthermore, when you start to think of it in terms of regulation
rather than legalization, people who continue to traffic illegally in
marijuana should face more severe criminal penalties under the
Controlled Substances and Drugs Act.

One of the inherent objectives of regulation has to be to try and
eliminate the black market for the stuff, so it's probably a good
thing if the price of playing in that black market becomes even more

I like the way legalization has morphed into regulation, and it might
provide the right kind of political language our governments and
public can accept.

Regulation isn't an endorsement. It accepts that there may be harm if
used by some people and therefore needs control. It doesn't mean
government is telling people to consume marijuana just like alcohol
regulation isn't a call to drink liquor. It's a tool to control
behaviour in a way that's consistent with a desirable or necessary
policy outcome, and of course, it's the way governments can levy and
collect various taxes.

On the legislative front, Americans have the ability to put various
questions on the ballot when they go to the polls. Colorado legalized
recreational marijuana use because the voters there told the state
government to do it. Imagine that - the people actually have a voice!
According to a Forum Research poll last August, about 66 per cent of
Canadians support either decriminalization or legalization, and that
number could easily grow in the context of a government actually
describing the parameters of a rational regulatory scheme.

Once the voters have spoken, it then becomes very difficult for state
legislatures to change the law, and this has many politicians
concerned that they get locked into a regime that can't be easily
modified as they gain experience and want or need to make legitimate
tweaks to the rules.

In Arizona and several other states, legislators are starting to
wonder whether its better to get ahead of the issue by taking the
matter into their own hands and enacting state legislation that would
be within their control rather than waiting for the voters to force
the issue on the ballot.

It's very refreshing to see this kind of democracy in action compared
with the almost petrified system we have in Canada once our elections
are over. If 60 per cent of Canadians think we should legalize or
decriminalize marijuana, there is absolutely nothing we can do about
it. In the United States, if the people's voice is loud enough, it
rules, and although there's always a risk of mob mentality, there's
something great about real-time democracy.

Canadians seem to be OK with legal access to marijuana. We can learn a
lot from the experience in the United States about how to establish a
proper tone and scheme of regulation.

It's time to do it.

David Asper is a Winnipeg lawyer and businessman.
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